Blog: Simplify Your Life
Simplicity: Radically Practicing What I Preach
When Matt and I hit the road as full-time RVers, I thought it would be an interesting sociological experiment for a Professional Organizer -- to see how simply we could live, how little "stuff" we could own and still be truly content in life. But I got even more than I bargained for in the practicing-what-you-preach arena!
Really Living With Less
After a few years of living the American Dream, Matt and I found ourselves, shall we say, "encumbered." Our living environment, our belongings, and our daily routines all took more time and effort to maintain than we felt was strictly necessary. So the goal was to shrink our life down from an 1,800 square foot house to a less-than-200 square foot trailer -- even though we considered ourselves "minimalists" and took pride in avoiding clutter, it's amazing how much stuff we had that we really didn't need. When did we ever invite 12 people over to dinner? What were we doing with 500 books when we could hit the library any time we wanted? Why did we need to stockpile canned goods as though we were preparing for nuclear holocaust? We've been so programmed to equate comfort with material possessions, to define ourselves by what we own, that it's almost impossible for even those who want to make the change to consider letting it all go. The good news is that, once you're honest with yourself and look at things objectively, it's actually not that hard to shed the excess.
Radical simplicity requires that you get real about how you actually live your life NOW, rather than how you would live in a different time or place. Focusing on the benefits of letting go (the freedom of not being chained to a house and its contents, decreased expenses, less home maintenance, and the joy of spending our time on experiences instead of "things") made it much easier to lighten the load. We systematically scoured every room in our house, dividing things into 3 piles -- coming in the Airstream, packing away in storage (only childhood memorabilia and tax records), or getting rid of. It was the most surreal process -- I got to ask myself all those annoying questions that I had always saved for my organizing clients. When was the last time you used it? When will you need it again? What's the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it? Only, instead of helping someone let go of junk they hadn't touched in years, we were cleaning out nearly everything we had used on a daily basis in our home. This was a wholesale environmental transformation. Paper documents and photos were scanned into the computer where they would take up no space. Movies were removed from their jewel cases and stored in space-saving wallets -- music was ripped onto the iPod. Each item we owned was evaluated and scrutinized -- anything that didn't serve an immediate and lasting purpose in our lives found a new home. If it didn't go in the "coming with us" and "storage" piles was either sold, given to a loved one, or donated. While our friends and family got some neat stuff that Christmas, and the local Goodwill doubled their inventory thanks to my efforts, and Craigslist became my best friend. In the end, we actually made about $16,000 off of our stuff -- not a bad chunk to put into savings at the start of our travels!
But once we hit the road, we found out that simplifying isn't just a one-time activity -- it's something you do day-in and day-out. Every routine (from doing laundry to cooking meals to getting ready for bed) changed once we downsized -- having so much less space and so much less stuff forces you to take care of your to-do's in the present moment. Think about the last time you came home, changed into something comfy, and dropped your work clothes on the floor. You immediately created more work for yourself down the road -- two additional steps picking those clothes up and hanging them in the closet (and by this time, they may also need to be washed or ironed, two more steps that could have been eliminated by just putting your stuff away the first time around). We used to let dishes pile up for as much as a week before washing them -- but now (having only four place settings and no dishwasher) we do them at the end of every meal. When we might have tossed a change of clothes on a chair to put away later, those items now go straight into the closet or laundry hamper. The bed gets made every day because it converts into our couch once the sun comes up -- and all of our work projects are put away in the afternoon because we simply don't have the room to leave them spread out all over the house. Consequently, Matt and I don't have to spend days at a time (or give up our weekends) "catching up" on housework, because it all gets done right then and there.
We live in a world of putting things away as soon as we're done with them, immediately cleaning up a mess instead of leaving it for later, and cutting out as many extra steps as possible. We also have "smaller" routines than before. We have a smaller fridge, so we buy fewer groceries at a time -- which means we have to shop more often, but we rarely have anything go bad and get thrown out anymore. We no longer make huge batches of food to freeze for the next six months -- but that allows us to eat fresher foods and more varied meals. We do smaller loads of laundry more often and spend a few minutes each morning sweeping to keep the dirt at bay. Our daily routines may seem more complicated to the casual observer -- but in the grand scheme of things, we invest less time and energy in maintaining our environment than most Americans. The only difference is that we put our time in up-front in smaller batches so we have less work later on. Doing the more "complicated" thing is actually easier, because it saves us time in the long run. It's the old contradiction that "simpler" doesn't always mean "easier." Our lives are much simpler since ditching the house and hitting the road -- we have less stress, more free time, and fewer things to keep track of. It's actually easier for us to stay organized and maintain a sense of order in a tiny space -- easier than it was when we had the room to accumulate junk we didn't use and make messes that we didn't have time to clean up.
If this sort of simplification intrigues you, give me a call -- I know what I'm talking about, I truly do practice what I preach, and I love spreading the gospel of simple living!
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posted on: 4/3/2012 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips
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Simplify Your Life
by Ramona Creel
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I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!
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